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Do I Need a License to Drive a Pontoon Boat?

Owning your own pontoon boat is an absolute dream. After all, pontoon boats are very functional and flexible. They can serve as a fishing boat, party barge, or even as a luxury vessel. It’s no wonder why there are a lot of people looking into learning how to build it and much more, drive one. Fortunately for beginners, driving a pontoon boat is easier compared to controlling other vessels. It is simple to learn and only requires basic seafaring fundamentals.

Leaving the Dock

The first thing you’d want to do is to leave the dock. Due to how this vessel is designed, it’s important to keep in mind that the wind plays an essential role in how successful you’ll be in leaving the docks. The trick is to apply short bursts of power. Feel your way through and adjust the drive accordingly.


Once you’re finally in open water, you’ll probably want to increase your speed already. Do so gradually, slowly applying power as needed. Follow the speed specs of your engine, and don’t forget to keep local regulations in mind when it comes to accelerating your craft.


Manipulating a pontoon boat on the water is simpler compared to other boats. Still, don’t think for a moment that it won’t capsize because it can, and it certainly will if you’re not careful.

Avoid making sharp and abrupt turns, and if you are required to shift directions, don’t forget to remind your passengers before doing so. In this way, you can prevent them from sliding towards one side of your vessel, which can then affect its stability and balance.

The key to driving a pontoon boat is making slow and smooth movements. Each action should be carefully calculated to ensure the safety of your craft and its passengers.


The structure of a pontoon boat itself also makes it easier to dock the vessel at the end of your travels. Just be wary of other vessels and the wind. Trim the engine down slowly, and don’t turn it off until you have fully docked. Keeping the engine idle will allow you to make quick adjustments should you need any.

Do You Need a License to Operate a Pontoon Boat?

Needing a license to drive a pontoon boat will all boil down to your sailing location. For instance, there are several states in the U.S. that do require a boating license to drive any type of watercraft, pontoon boats included.

Meanwhile, there are states that further require you to earn a certificate from a state-approved boating safety course first, aside from just having a license. We recommend consulting the American Boating Association as a reference to learn more about the legalities of pontoon boat driving.

Tips on Pontoon Boat Driving Safety

Mastery of skills and experience definitely has a huge impact on the safety of your pontoon boat driving. However, there are other ways to further lower the risks that come hand in hand with sailing. One of them is securing a license.

In the meantime, see these helpful tips for further driving safety:

  • Follow your pontoon boat’s weight restrictions, and don’t overcrowd it with passengers. Consider the weight of its gear and accessories, as well.
  • Avoid heading out to sea after a bad weather announcement, or even if you’re only worried about the possibility of it. If rough waves somehow catch you at sea, head straight to the dock immediately.
  • Make sure that your passengers have their safety gear on before even leaving the dock.
  • Slightly increase your engine power when you encounter particularly rough waves to avoid going under it. In fact, make sure that the nosecones of your pontoon boat’s tubular hulls don’t go underwater.
  • As mentioned, you should be careful when making turns. If a turn doesn’t feel right, don’t force it. Doing so might capsize the boat.
  • The strength of a pontoon boat relies on its balance and weight distribution. Make sure that everything (and anyone) with substantial weight are evenly distributed throughout the deck.

Pontoon boats are a joy to drive; they’re easy to learn and simple to control. All you need is a background on the basic fundamentals of sailing, and you’re all set. Still, there are a lot of other factors to consider when it comes to ensuring the safety of your trip aside from your sailing know-how, like having a license.

Some states require them, while others deem it mandatory for one to attend (and pass) a boating safety course, as well. After all, those documents could signify your proficiency in handling a watercraft.

Finally, don’t forget to take note of other essential elements when driving your pontoon boat, namely the waves, the wind, and weight distribution. By keeping them in mind, we’re sure that you will be able to enjoy your pontoon boat trips safer and better.


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